Royals Sued After Mascot Hits Fan with Hot Dog
A fan who got hit in the eye by a hot dog thrown by the Kansas City Royals mascot in 2009 could get another chance to convince a jury that the Royals owe him for his injuries: the Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Sept. 11 in John Coomer’s case.
Coomer was sitting six rows behind the third-base dugout at a Royals baseball game in September 2009, when a foil-wrapped hot dug flung by Sluggerrr, the team’s lion-like mascot, hit him in the eye. Sluggerrr reportedly fires hot dogs at fans from an air cannon between some innings, and he throws the treats while the cannon is being reloaded.
Coomer, who says his retina was detached by the hot dog, sued the Royals for negligence, alleging that Sluggerrr failed to use ordinary care when he threw the hot dog behind his back at the crowd, and that the Royals failed to adequately train and supervise the mascot, according to Coomer’s brief.
The Royals say Coomer was at fault because he knew hot dogs were being thrown and chose to look away while one was being thrown in his direction. He admits looking up at the score board during Sluggerrr’s hot dog pitching.
A jury found in favor of the Royals, after the trial judge directed the jury that if they found Coomer had accepted the risk of attending a baseball game, they had to find for the defendants. But in January, an appeals court reversed, sending the case back for another trial.
The Royals appealed that ruling, and on Sept. 11, the Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments. “If the Supreme Court affirms the court of appeals, Mr. Coomer will have a new trial,” says his lawyer, Robert Tormohlen of Lewis, Rice & Fingersh in Kansas City. “If the Supreme Court reverses the court of appeals, the case will be over.” Tormohlen couldn’t comment further since the case is pending.
Assumption of Risk
Under the legal principle of assumption of risk, a defendant in a negligence case can argue that the plaintiff voluntarily took on the risk of an inherently dangerous activity and thus can’t recover for any injury.
“Typically, in sporting events, participants are held to different negligence standards than people who interact with others in normal, every day situations,” explains Jeffrey Rasansky of the Rasansky Law Firm in Dallas.
“For instance, in baseball, a batter may get beaned in the head by an aberrant pitch and get injured,” Rasanky says, but “he assumed the risk by participating in the event, whereas a person walking down the street who gets hit in the head by a baseball may have a legal claim for negligence or a case of assault.”
“In this case, a spectator does assume some risk for acts that are inherent by virtue of watching the sport,” he continues. “A guy sitting on the third base line who gets injured by a foul ball probably assumed the risk of getting hit by an errant foul ball. The trial judge in this case probably concluded that flying hot dogs were really no different than foul balls.”
Catapulted Dogs: Part of the Game?
But where is that line? The issue of how much risk a fan assumes when it comes to hot dog projectiles has made it all the way to the state supreme court, which will now decide whether flying hot dogs are inherently part of baseball.
“Catapulting hot dogs by a mascot are totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in a baseball and any risks associated with this behavior are not inherent in baseball,” he says.
Rasansky predicts that if Coomer’s case makes it back down to another jury, the new judge is unlikely to wade into assumption of risk instructions but will instead allow the jury to consider the conduct of both Coomer and the Royals.
“The result may turn out exactly the same way if the jury believes that Coomer was 100 percent responsible for not paying attention to what was going on,” Rasansky says. “This sounds like a freak accident in which the jury will likely not find fault with the Royals or mascot.”